Useful Notes: James Madison
“Equal laws protecting equal rights... the best guarantee of loyalty and love of country.”1809 to 1817 (following Thomas Jefferson and preceding James Monroe), and one of the most important and influential minds in American history. He served from 1809 to 1817 and was the second president from the Democratic-Republican Party. He is known as the “Father of the Constitution” and the “Father of the Bill of Rights,” though he didn’t like to be called either of them. His political beliefs changed a lot throughout his lifetime. During the Revolutionary War, Madison served on the Virginia state legislature, and sometimes worked closely with Thomas Jefferson. He later served as the youngest delegate to the Congress under the Articles of Confederation, where he gained experience in federal government and got a first-hand sense of the problems of the government under the Articles. He also read countless books on government sent to him by Jefferson. When the Constitutional Convention met in order to discuss the Articles' shortcomings, he was the one who convinced George Washington to attend and preside over the Convention. He was one of the most active delegates at the Convention, speaking hundreds of times, and impressed many of the others with his arguments for a stronger federal government and his well-researched knowledge of nearly every issue. The detailed diary Madison kept on the Convention has remained a priceless insight into the process of writing the Constitution. Madison was the author and primary supporter of the Virginia Plan at the Convention, which proposed that the nation’s legislative branch would represent each state based on their population (which would become the idea for the House of Representatives), among other things. His role in the convention is important for establishing a powerful federal government that could pass laws over the entire nation, rather than the essentially state-based power of the Articles. Since the Virginia Plan would essentially serve as a first draft of the eventual Constitution passed by the Convention, he has often been credited as the Constitution’s primary author. Along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, he wrote the Federalist Papers, a series of 85 academic articles all written anonymously that supported ratification of the Constitution and explained it to the public (he wrote 26 by himself and three with Hamilton). Madison’s Papers also defended several of the most important aspects of the Constitution, such as a system of checks-and-balances, a federal government with more power than the state governments that still respects state sovereignty, the idea of limited government, the three-fifth compromise (where every five slaves would count as three freedmen in the state’s population note ), and, most importantly, the argument that a strong national government would have more power to quell rebellions and prevent self-interested parties from gaining too much power. The writings and beliefs of Niccolò Machiavelli served as an inspiration to Madison and other Founding Fathers, such as John Adams. As the debate over state ratification grew, many opposed to ratification began to argue that the Constitution lacked a Bill of Rights and that, as a result, the federal government did not have to consider the basic human rights that the Revolutionary War was fought defending. Madison, and most of the others in the Convention, believed that such a Bill was unnecessary and that it would only defend the rights that were specifically mentioned. However, he quickly realized that some of the states might not ratify the Constitution, and he responded by writing and promoting a series of twenty amendments to the Constitution that would define and defend these rights and certain political practices. These were eventually condensed into the first ten amendments to the Constitution, which have since been referred to as the Bill of Rights. The ninth and tenth amendments defend certain rights held by the people that weren’t mentioned in the other amendment and that all powers not granted to the federal government are held by the states, respectively. Additionally, one of his other proposed amendments, which says that changes in the amount paid to Congressmen wouldn’t take place until after the next congressional election, would be ratified as the twenty-seventh amendment in 1992. After the ratification of the Constitution, he was elected to the House of Representatives. He did all of this before he turned 40, by the way. Later, James Madison became, in a seeming reversal of his political stance during the Convention, one of the most active conservatives in the nationnote , opposing the Federalist Party's efforts to increase the powers of the national government. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson essentially created the Democratic-Republican Party to oppose the Federalists, which were led primarily by John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. He remained a strong supporter of powerful state governments and “strict construction” of the Constitution (where it is taken literally and that all powers not held by the federal government are assumed by either the states or the people) for the next several years of his life. After President Adams passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, Madison and Jefferson wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions opposed to those acts, declaring them to be unconstitutional. While Madison's Virginia Resolution only criticized the two acts, Jefferson called for possible secession; Madison convinced Jefferson to calm down from this view. Madison then served as Secretary of State under Jefferson, and was the primary American diplomat during the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. That same year, he was also involved in the Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison, which, to his annoyance, determined that federal courts have the right to interpret the Constitution and the constitutionality of laws through the power of judicial review. He was elected President after Jeffersons two terms were over. In 1811, he did not renew the charter that would keep the national bank founded by Hamilton (it needed to be renewed every twenty years or the bank would be dismantled). During the first few years of his presidency, relations with Great Britain strained tremendously, due largely to the British Navy’s practice of illegally searching American ships for British deserters and, sometimes, stealing American sailors and conscripting them in the British Navy. Since the late 1790s, approximately 7,000 American merchant seamen or sailors had been impressed, as it was known. Banning trade with the United Kingdom did nothing to stop this, either. Madison eventually asked Congress to declare war on Britain, and the War Hawks, including Henry Clay, narrowly passed the declaration despite the voracious opposition of Federalists in New England. The War of 1812note was an absolute nightmare for the federal government because of a succession of weak generals and because the government was not yet properly organized to manage a war. There was also a brief, secondary wish to make annexing Canada part of the overall war strategy, although the primary purpose of the invasion was to essentially force Britain to the negotiating table in regards to impressment. If you've looked at a map of North America lately, you can probably tell that fleeting wish was not granted. Once Napoleon had been exiled to Elba, the British turned their attention to the conflict, stepping up their raiding in the Chesapeake Bay, and eventually mounting a successful amphibious invasion of the state of Maryland, after which they marched on Washington, D.C., and burned down most of the city's public buildings, including the original U.S. Capitol Building and the White House. Luckily for Madison, all of this happened after the 1812 election; allowing Pennsylvania to obtain licenses to continue trading with the British through the second half of 1812 probably assured his re-election. He also became the first (and currently only) president to lead troops into battle while in office; the battle, the prelude to the burning of Washington, was a defeat and Madison fled. America eventually managed enough victories to successfully negotiate a peace treaty with Great Britain that declared status quo ante bellum. In a final ironic twist to a war that shouldn't have been fought, the one major American victory, at New Orleans, occurred after the peace treaty had been negotiated in Europe. Indeed, Madison succeeded in getting Britain to remove their forts from the Mississippi River basin and getting them to cease the conscription of American sailors, thus achieving the initial goals of the war without losing any territory to Britain. Madison's chief accomplishment as President was successfully preserving the Constitution and holding the nation together through the nation's first major war. Unlike most of the other wartime Presidents, Madison managed to do this without suspending civil liberties, attacking minorities, or expanding presidential powers, so that's impressive. After the war was over, Madison changed his political views yet again and supported many of the policies he previously opposed, such as a standing military that is professionally trained, the American System of Speaker of the House Henry Clay, and, ironically, a national bank. Like Jefferson before him, Madison had to send the Navy to suppress North African pirates in the Mediterranean. Part of Spanish Florida was annexed in a little-known but rather interesting incident. He was also somewhat ahead of his time when it came to his views on Native Americans. He ordered the army to protect tribal lands from being settled by whites. Andrew Jackson wasn’t amused. During his time as President, Indiana and Louisiana were admitted to the Union. Madison spent most of the rest of his life in Montpelier, his tobacco plantation. Madison was a slave owner, but he genuinely had sympathy for African Americans; one of his own slaves would comment after Madison’s death that he never had his slaves physically punished, ordering the overseers not to hurt them, and always talked to them like they were people instead of tools of labor. He was a supporter (and, for a brief time, the president) of the American Colonization Society, which aimed to create colonies in Africa for freed slaves. Madison spent much of his last few years altering documents he wrote in order to protect his reputation after his death. During this time, he also spoke out against excessive states' rights out of the belief that it could eventually disrupt the Union; he especially objected to John C. Calhoun's use of Madison's own Virginia Resolution during the Nullification Crisis of 1832. He also succeeded Jefferson as president of the University of Virginia, and would remain so until his death. He was the last Founding Father to die. Many things have been named after Madison, including counties, colleges, towns, ships, the capital of Wisconsin, and Madison Square Garden in New York City. His wife Dolley, a famous hostess, was also used to name several things, such as the brand of ice cream. Urban Legend holds it that she personally rescued the Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington while the British were marching into Washington, DC. In reality, the physical removal of the painting was done by the Madisons’ slaves, though she does deserve credit for organizing the rescue. Madison is also well-known for being the shortest president at 5 feet 4 inches (163 centimeters, and significantly below the average adult male height). He was also at most 125 pounds as an adult. It’s probably why he was exceedingly shy and wore black all the time. Despite his shyness and the way he looked, he was actually a lot funnier than Jefferson. He had a cousin of the same name who was a bishop. One of only two Presidents from Princeton University, in contrast to the cavalcade of Harvard and Yale alums who've had the job. Of the two, Madison is definitely the least controversial. George Will once did a lecture—partially available on Youtube—comparing and contrasting the two Princeton alums who became President. Madison used to be on the $5,000 dollar bill, but these have been discontinued since 1969.
Tropes relating to President Madison:
- Ambiguous Disorder: Downplayed. He intermittently encountered moments of paralysis which were diagnosed as epilepsy. It is unsure whether it actually was or if he had a severe form of depression and the alleged seizures were actually just bouts of hysteria.
- Americans Hate Tingle: Even today, Canadians have a far dimmer view of James Madison, remembering him as the president who ordered the invasion of Canada, which included the burning of York (modern Toronto) during the War of 1812. Indeed, when British Royal Marines later burned Washington DC, it was claimed to be in direct retaliation for the burning of York. In reality, the British Army had already conducted retaliatory raids into upper New York State for both the burning of York (which was not authorized by the Madison administration), and the raid on Port Dover. The Royal Marines had also been conducting raiding forays in the Chesapeake for at least eighteen months by the time of the march into Washington, DC. In short, both sides still have their senses of nationalism tied up in the conflict.
- The Apprentice: To Jefferson
- The B Grade: Madison refused to settle for anything less than top grades when he was in college, and studied round the clock, so much so that he actually became sick from overwork.
- Badass Bookworm: Name any American politician post-Founding Fathers who hasn't been at least partially influenced by him. Go on, try.
- He remains the only American President to actually fight on a battlefield while President, having commanded an artillery battalion during the British attack on Washington DC.
- There was a year when he read about four hundred books.
- Big Fancy House: His plantation estate, Montpelier.
- The Clan: The Madison family is very big and very far-reaching. He alone had eleven siblings.
- The Determinator: When Madison was in college, he was so determined to ace his classes that he actually made himself sick from overwork and non-stop studying.
- Also, his wife Dolley. During the War of 1812, as the British were marching to Washington to burn it down, she refused to leave until she oversaw the removal of a famous painting of George Washington, and ultimately made it out with only a few hours to spare. That painting still hangs in the White House today thanks to her.
- Embarrassing Nickname: Standing at 5'4 and being the shortest man to ever be president, Madison was unfortunately saddled with the nicknames "Little Jemmy" and "His Tiny Majesty".
- Geek Physiques: Mostly reported to have been barely a hundred pounds, and as geeky as they come.
- Genre Savvy: A big part of the reason why the Constitution has endured is thanks to Madison's being Genre Savvy enough about political philosophy and realities that he explicitly set out to create a system of checks and balances on power, and the amendment process, as well as explicitly stating what the various branches of government were supposed to do.
- Happily Married: To Dolley Madison
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Jefferson.
- Humble Hero: If Madison cared at all about getting credit, he wouldn't have delegated as often as he had in conventions for the sake of conveying ideas more effectively. He also refuted the prestigious title "Father of the Constitution," insisting instead that it was the product of "many minds, and many hands."
- Hypochondria: Refused to travel abroad and reported to one of his friends that he didn't expect a long life because his health was so poor (in reality, he lived longer than most, to the age of eighty-five). Subverted in one instance where he thought he had epilepsy because, while he probably didn't have epilepsy, there was definitely something wrong with him in that regard.
- In Its Hour of Need: Although ultimately forced to flee Washington in the face of overwhelming British force, he stayed in the city as long as he could—and personally took command of an artillery battery during the battle—and returned the minute it was possible.
- Intelligence Equals Isolation: Records seem to indicate that Madison wasn't very social. On the subject of his inaugural ball, he once said "I would much rather be in bed."
- Ivy League: Went to Princeton (though back then it was named The College of New Jersey, not to be confused with the current and different college--based in Ewing, NJ--that now bears the name The College of New Jersey).
- Lastof His Kind: Last of the Founding Fathers to die (unless you would count Aaron Burr, who died a couple months later).
- Magnum Opus: The United States Constitution.
- The Man Behind the Man: In countless situations, notably with both Washington and Jefferson. He frequently advised Washington's crucial decisions and wrote various documents for him, including most of the content in his farewell address, and was the primary campaign manager for Jefferson throughout the latter's political life. He was also the leading force behind the hated Embargo Act, which is most commonly blamed on the President instead of the Secretary of State, who was more responsible for it. Could also count for every man whom he delegated to propose his schemes, as he sometimes thought of himself as too politically diminutive to carry any weight.
- Massive Numbered Siblings: See The Clan above.
- Name's the Same: He had a minister cousin with the same name.
- He was also named after his father (who was called "Colonel Madison" partly to avoid confusion).
- One of Sally Hemings's kids was named James Madison Hemings.
- Omniglot: In addition to English, he spoke Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and some Hebrew.
- Overshadowedby Awesome: His more moderate and quiet personality, despite his political accomplishment and attributes not at all far from more known figures, probably in part accounts for the fact that he's extremely overshadowed by more fiery characters like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
- Perpetual Frowner: Most paintings depict him as this. Even by the standards of the time.
- Presidents Who Actually Lead the Military: All US Presidents carry the title "Commander-in-Chief," but Madison is the last President to actually lead troops in battle. note
- Pint-Sized Powerhouse: if the strength in question can be attributed mostly to his intellectual capacity. A literal example would be his debating with Monroe outside of Lutheran Church (not only was Monroe physically eight inches taller than him, but according to Daniel O'Brien, the infamous Patrick Henry specifically employed Monroe to beat him) and carrying a congressional election at the time in a district which was gerrymandered against him.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: One of the true moderates of the Founding Era, he disliked political extremes and sought to find the perfect balance for the American government. He helped lead the Federalists during the debate over whether to scrap the Articles of Confederation, and wrote Constitution in order to replace it. In the decades afterwards, he felt Federalists were starting to move too far in the direction of powerful central government, and sided with Jefferson's Republicans in order to push back against the excesses of the faction he'd formerly sided with.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: The Blue to Jefferson's Red.
- Romancing the Widow: Madison was introduced to his future wife, Dolley, by Aaron Burr, after Dolley's first husband died during a yellow-fever epidemic.
- Scars Are Forever: He incurred damage to his nose and ears from frostbite on the twelve-mile trip back home from debating outside of Lutheran Church in terrible weather with Monroe. He was said to have borne the scar on his nose from the frostbite for the rest of his life.
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: During the drafting of the Federalist Papers, Madison was the sensitive guy compared to Alexander Hamilton's more brash public persona. Could also be considered this trope in comparison with Hamilton's archrival, Madison's fellow Republican Thomas Jefferson.
- Shorter Means Smarter: Probably the shortest ever present at any political convention of the day, and the shortest president in America's history, yet one of, if not the most, intellectual.
- The Smart Guy: Oh, surely. Besides Jefferson, he's probably the smartest of the American Presidents.
- Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: At 5'7 Dolley Madison was quite tall for a woman of her era. She also loved to wear turbans, which were often decorated with ostrich or bird of paradise plumes that would have made her seem even taller still, especially next to the diminutive James.
- Underestimating Badassery: Patrick Henry probably didn't expect Madison to carry a congressional election in a district which was gerrymandered against him.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: With James Monroe. Also possibly with Alexander Hamilton, pre-political parties. They are sometimes considered "the odd couple of the Constitution" because of their effective collaboration despite their painfully obvious differences.
- Younger Than They Look: Although the size of an average middle schooler, Madison was often described as "shriveled," "haggard," "withered," etc. Despite being eight years younger than Jefferson, he was reported to have looked older.
James Madison in fiction:
- In the Futurama episode "All the President's Heads," the head of James Madison has an elbow fetish.
- The school district in Roseanne was named after Madison.
- In an episode of Robot Chicken, a trailer is shown for a biopic starring Adam Sandler, called Happy Madison.
- In Decades of Darkness, Madison is the President of the United States when New England rebels and becomes independent.